Saturday, November 29, 2008

Eye on the sparrow

“Why feed those damn sparrows
and finches?” My neighbor groused.
“They’re just ugly little
Dun colored things. Might as well
Feed the grackles, too, while you’re at it.”

And I do, for I believe in the God of Small Things.
One small bird cannot fall
Without notice, so who am I
To set up a velvet rope and a bouncer at the feeder?

This is the God of the uncut grass
Bowing obeisance to the summer wind
Seed heads bowed, nodding like somnolent watchmen
Thankful for the smaller gifts of wind and rain.

This is the God of cottonwood leaves
Applauding to the exhalations of
Exhausted hurricanes. This is
The God of infinite detail in a hazelnut universe.

This is the God of love without reason.
Surely we receive as much grace as sparrows.
Frantic beggars, they just hope for food.
Frantic beggars, we just hunger for God.

Every creature of God is good, praising with each breath,
Even as winter want implacably awaits.
Eckhart said, “Every creature is a book about God.”
It is given to us to read it, and be led back to love.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Fort Worth, Quincy, Pittsburgh, San Joaquin: A problem of love

Today the Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth under +Jack Iker announced that it too is leaving the Episcopal Church and aligning itself with Archbishop Venables and the Southern Cone. This is now the fourth diocese to cast off its ties to the Episcopal Church over disputes which ultimately are about conservative versus progressive interpretations of the Scriptural witness to us as Christians.

Ultimately, this dispute is all about love. That means that, for many of us, this is a dispute about the very nature of God.

I think most of us (with perhaps the exception of +John Shelby Spong) would agree that we are called to live according to the precepts handed to us in Scripture as one part of the infamous three-legged stool that Anglicans use to craft our understanding of our faith and theology. The difference sadly, boils down to these two questions, and these questions alone:

Is God a loving God, or is God a judging God? Does God call us to love or condemn?

These questions are vital to one's theology literally as well as figuratively. I would actually state that these questions are vital to how we live our lives, which is what theology should be.

One of the flashpoints for conservative displeasure and censuring of the Episcopal Church has to do with homosexuality and its status in the interpretation in Scripture. One could even make the case that the anger of the conservatives is over the call of some people to love those of their own gender. So this dispute is literally about love, one could say.

Conservatives ultimately interpret the Scriptural witness in four or five specific verses to mean God wishes to judge and exclude homosexuals. Progressives interpret Scripture not based on specific verses but on Christ's action in sitting at table with the most marginalized and despised of his times to mean that God loves all and Jesus is sent to all in love. Ultimately, the dispute is about strict interpretation of the Bible versus loose interpretation of the Bible, similar to political disputes about the interpretation of the US Constitution.

We could rehash all the particulars of this dispute, but that's been done better by others elsewhere. I myself have great unease about +Gene Robinson's path to the bishopric in particular, but it's not his homosexuality per se that troubles me, as I have explained previously, and listen, defenders of Bishop Robinson, we are just going to have to disagree about that. Then there's the dispute many of these conservatives have about the leadership of women in the Church, but this point merely reinforces the definition of the problem.

But what troubles me more than anything else is the anger that radiates from those who are leaving the Episcopal Church, and their Global South counterparts who are welcoming the self-exiled into their diocese and provinces. They seem to lack any love for their fellow Christians save those who agree with them theologically. They are full of rage, bitterness, judgment, and vindictiveness. To them the Church is only a Church if it is an exclusive club and I mean both meanings of the word "club"-- as a group and as a blunt weapon.

Any cursory examination of the words and actions of Jesus instructs us to act otherwise. The one recorded instance in Scripture when Jesus showed anger was directed at those who had used literal interpretation of Scripture to defile the sacred sanctuary of God. Jesus clashed with the conservatives of his time over their wrong intent justified upon isolated bits of scripture and tradition. This sounds familiar.

We are called to proclaim Christ crucified, a Christ who loved us so much that he was willing to suffer and to therefore witness to us through that love. Jesus loves us despite our pettiness and brokenness.

It is love that joins us together.

It is love that calls us to a personal relationship with God.

It is love that calls us to be the Body of Christ in the world in fellowship to each other.

Love calls us into unity, not division.

How wonderful and wondrous! How miraculous! All else pales into insignificance.

And I must ask: where is the witness of love in this current dispute?